Senior midfielder Matt Blumenthal has experienced the immense pressure of taking a penalty kick during a match many times throughout his soccer career. A tri−captain and perennial starter in the center of the midfield, Blumenthal called on this experience on Saturday when he stepped up to the penalty spot in the 22nd minute of a scoreless match against NESCAC rival Colby.
“I used to take [penalty kicks] for my high school and club teams and had only ever missed once,” he said.
Freshman midfielder Gus Santos, who has been called Tufts’ most dynamic offensive threat by several teammates this season, created the chance for Blumenthal when he was tripped by a Colby defender in the box. Once it was clear that the Jumbos had been awarded a penalty kick, Blumenthal, who was trailing the play, immediately shifted his focus to the upcoming one−on−one matchup with Colby senior goalkeeper Ben Joslin.
“Coach told me at the start of the year that PKs were mine, so the second I saw Gus draw the foul I was ready to step up,” Blumenthal said. “You’ve just got to choose a side and be confident that it will go in.”
Joslin guessed right, but Blumenthal was still able to beat him with a solid strike just inside the post, opening the scoring in what would become a 2−1 victory for the Jumbos. It was exactly the result that head coach Josh Shapiro expected when Blumenthal approached the kick.
“It’s always good to see your senior captain take charge and want to be the guy who takes penalty kicks,” Shapiro said. “You could see that [Blumenthal] was in control out there.”
The Jumbos were clearly the better side early on. Tufts generated 13 first−half shots compared with only five from the host Colby. In a losing effort against Wesleyan on Sept. 17, Tufts struggled to generate chances and only produced six shots in the first half. The team credited its increased offensive output against Colby to coaching adjustments made in the week leading up to the match.
“The coaches did a great job,” Blumenthal said. “They showed each of us individual video, and we worked [in practice] on the midfielders switching the ball much more. Against Wesleyan, we were kind of getting stuck in one side of the field, but we opened the game up more this week.”
Tufts’ relentless pressure paid off once again just before the end of the half. With seconds remaining before the break, sophomore forward Jono Edelman, who was given his first opportunity of the season to play as an attacking midfielder, poked away a backwards pass to Joslin and played it back across goal to freshman forward Maxime Hoppenot. The first−year one−timed the pass into an open net to double the Jumbos’ lead and give the team a massive momentum boost heading into the second half.
“Jono gives us something different out on the wing,” Shapiro said. “With [junior forward] Franco Silva back in form and Gus a little banged up, it seemed like a good fit for us at the time.”
Colby responded to Tufts’ first half lead with increased pressure in the second half, especially in the last 20 minutes of the match. The Mules sent greater numbers forward and put pressure on the Jumbos’ back line, drawing six corner kicks and generating seven shots in the last 45 minutes. The Jumbos, however, stayed strong at the back and did not concede a goal until the 90th minute, when Colby sophomore Jonathan Sommer tallied to reduce the Jumbos’ lead. Fortunately for Tufts, Colby could get no closer than that, allowing the Jumbos to escape Waterville, Maine, with a tough 2−1 victory.
One reason Tufts was able to keep its lead against Colby was another steady performance from Jumbos senior Alan Bernstein. The tri−captain goalkeeper denied a second−half breakaway chance from Mules junior midfielder Andrew Meisel, tipped another shot over the bar and grabbed several dangerous balls that were played into the box. Several players commended Bernstein’s performance, as did his head coach.
“Alan had to deal with some inexperience because we started two freshman center backs,” Shapiro said. “There was nothing he could do about the goal, and besides that, he looked dominant out there as he usually does.”
The team is busy this week with three matches: an out of conference contest against Endicott today and two NESCAC matches this weekend against Amherst and Trinity. While the team realizes that it shouldn’t take too much out of one match, it also hopes that its performance against Colby can impact the rest of the 2011 campaign.
“It certainly can be a turning point in our season,” Blumenthal said. “It’s really huge to get that first NESCAC win, and hopefully it will be the start of a run.”